How do you view success? How do you measure it? These two are the usual questions whenever the topic is discussed. But I think the more important question that should be asked is – Do you consider yourself successful?
Before you answer those questions, let’s revisit the definition of the word. Let’s check how online dictionaries define success.
Cambridge’s definition of the word is something broad – “The achieving of the results wanted or hoped for.” Colin’s goes – “The achievement of something that you have been trying to do.” Oxford is more specific with its definition – “The attainment of fame, wealth or social status.” Merriam-Webster’s is almost the same as Oxford’s – “The attainment of wealth, favor or eminence.”.
Our favorite research assistant – “Dr. Google” – says that success is “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose” and “the attainment of popularity and profit.”
Let’s also check the synonyms: prosperity, affluence , wealth, riches, opulence, and triumph.
I hope that the foregoing definitions and synonyms are sufficient to help you come out with meaningful and definitive answers to the questions I asked at the beginning of this article. And by the way, do the ideas conveyed by those definitions and synonyms jibe with what you think success is?
The definitions and synonyms above actually show the way people in our society quantify success. They tell us about the measuring sticks being used by most people, including you probably, to determine whether or not a person is successful. Everything boil down to one or a combination of the following: wealth, fame and power.
So, when asked who are the most successful people in the world, people never fail to mention the names of the world’s richest men – Jess Bezos, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and the others who are listed in Forbes’ top 10 world’s billionaires . The next ones in our lists are the showbiz, sports, media, and political personalities. We also remember the names of quite a few people – some of them could be our own friends – who excel in their respective fields of endeavors when we discuss about successful people.
Now, let me ask some questions.
Are those people we consider successful happy also? Have the money, fame, power, and accomplishment they possess brought them happiness? They are the only ones, or their relatives (or their close friends and confidants), who could answer those questions. People outside of their inner circle could only make speculations and assumptions.
Many believe that rich people live under the constant pressure of wanting to amass more wealth – famous people to ensure that their stars keep shining – politicians to perpetuate themselves to power – so much so that they forget to live a life. Thus, they are perceived to be unhappy.
At least, they have the money.
“But can their money buy them happiness?” This question has been asked so many times that it could be considered meaningless already. But in the light of the present discussion it should be asked, not for the purpose of having it answered, but as a point to ponder on.
We presume that with all the luxuries the money of the wealthy, famous and powerful could afford, it’s almost impossible that they are not happy. Unless it is true that of the needs which Maslow’s identified in the hierarchy of needs, only the basic ones (physiological and safety) could be covered by money. The psychological needs (esteem needs, belongingness and love needs) and self-fulfillment needs are definitely not available in the shelves of even the most expensive stores.
Here is the next question I would like to ask – “Are they healthy?”
They are already rich, famous, and powerful. They are truly blessed if they are also in good shape. Of course they are – financially. What about physically, emotionally, and mentally? In their quest for riches, fame and power, did they not sacrifice their health, values, and relationships? While they sit on their thrones clutching their coffer, do they feel peace flowing within them? Again, they are the only ones, and the people around them, who could give a definite answer. They are the only ones who know whether or not they are suffering from any debilitating disease, mental anguish, and emotional stress?
I brought out the questions on happiness and health in the discussion of success because I believe that there is a need to strike balance between the ephemeral and the ethereal when defining the concept. The prevailing view of success is materialistic. We attach tangible proofs to it – money, big house, new car, degree, job title, a certain body type, etc. I am not saying that such act (of attaching those tangible proofs to success) is wrong. I just consider it as not encompassing.
What about simple people who did not attend school, don’t have cars, and live in simple houses in far-flung farming and fishing villages happily living a simple life and diligently performing their role in society? Can’t they not be considered successful in their own right?
When you don’t have a mansion – a car – fancy clothes – expensive jewelry – a university degree – huge amount in the bank, when you’re not famous and not powerful, when you’re just an ordinary decent individual honestly earning a living and contended with what you have and what you’re capable of achieving and you’re happy and healthy, would people not consider you successful?
If a person’s goal is to be happy and healthy and he/she achieves it, isn’t that success?
Correlating happiness and health to success is a kind of paradigm shift that will make capitalists unhappy. It is the materialistic view of success that keeps most of their present business ventures alive.
Well, we define success in different ways. Success is subjective and I think that nobody could claim that their way of looking at it is the right one.
The most valuable lesson I learned about success is this – define it for yourself. Don’t allow other people to define success for you. Don’t subscribe to the standards they set. You know your capabilities and limitations more than anyone else, factor them when setting your success parameters. But be not satisfied with your current skill set. You have to improve and as you see yourself becoming better set the bars of your success higher. And most importantly, don’t forget that as you march towards the achievement of your simplest goals and the realization of your grandest ambitions, you should not sacrifice your happiness and health.
What about you? How do you view success? How do you measure it? Do you consider yourself successful?